Archive for the 'control' Category
I have thought for a while that the rational actor that is central to many economic theories might be an outgrowth of the psychological model of the individual mind. Adam Curtis of the BBC has a wonderful documentary post about the role of the rational actor model in the development of theories of counterinsurgency, from the Algerian civil war, through Vietnam, to Iraq and Afghanistan. In each case, the attribution of domains of significance to the individual only, and an impoverished individual at that, led to a complete failure to comprehend the webs of social meaning which were the fabric of people’s lives.
The documentary blog entry is here. How to Kill a Rational Peasant.
(This post is inspired by dipping into people like Heinz von Foerster, Scott Kelso, Mike Turvey, Francesco Varela, and many others, including the modest, but so insightful, Wei Wu Wei.)
When I first heard cognitive scientists talk about thermodynamics, I was perplexed. I did not see what this arcane belief in physics had to do with cognition. It has taken a while to dawn on me. The second law is the one that says that entropy, or disorder, must increase in a closed system, such as, for example, the whole frigging universe. And it’s a peculiar law. There is no experiment you can do to test it, as the only closed system is, many believe, that which we call the whole universe. It is more of a belief. And it is a peculiar belief too. Scientists cling to it dearly, and it underwrites the distinction between far-from-equilibrium systems, like life forms, from the dead stuff, which has a tendency to fall apart. Believe me, I know. Most scientists, I fear, have no idea why they subscribe to this belief. It’s just taken to be the thing we know absolutely. But, if we hold our knowledge of it as true or false in abeyance for a moment, what exactly hangs on this issue? What does the question mean?
My own understanding of the relevance of the question came about thus: As I studied movement, and coordination, I came to see that we must understand time if we are to understand that which we are. Because the arrow of time–which is our favorite story about the eternal present–is the fabric upon which intentional behavior is woven. Things that are meaningfully coordinated provide scintillating, alternative operationalizations of the notion of time. Define lawful change, or a dynamic, so, and you see one kind of regularity. Define it another way, and different things come into focus. The locus of agency shifts as you redefine time, and questions of the locus of agency and our belief in ourselves as subjective agents, are two sides of the same coin.
The second law of thermodynamics is the belief that there is one way to measure the arrow of time. It is the only foundation stone of physics where time is necessarily directional, and the direction is given by the concept of order or structure. Here, too, we see a belief that that which deserves the appellation ”real” is that which is revealed if we get our notion of time right.
Heinz von Foerster seems to have a nice illustration that if we subscribe to the arrow of time, as defined by the Second Law, to be a description of the universe, then there can be no self-organizing system, no entity that is worthy of the name “real”. Here a link remains to be made to the experiential domain. The subject. For von Foerster, like I, does not buy into the notion of Mind, that is distinct from an outside world. As he says in his introduction to the book Understanding Understanding,
I am unhappy with this discrimination between objective and subjective: How do I know the objects? Where are they? Of course, I can reconfirm or establish a rich connection with an object by touching or by smelling it or talking about it, and so I had the idea to make the object a representation of the activity or behavior of the observer, instead of the passive being looked or just sitting there.
He speaks here of the impossibility of finding the subjective if you insist on one definition of time, or, equivalently, of objectivity. Of course self-organizing systems can be identified, but each requires a different definition of time. This relativizes their claims to be the origin of agentive cause.
Wei Wu Wei, as ever, is very clear about this:
As long as anyone tacitly accepts Time either as really existing, or even as the basis of consideration, he is only concerning himself with objectivity. (source)
If you believe in something called “motor control”, then the non-volitional action underlying the concept of Wu Wei will appear odd.
Imagine a busy road in which many cars manage to drive at high speed, without crashing. If now, one driver makes a very serious error, his car goes places it should not go, maybe turning over, and crashing. In a conventional account, we say he “lost control”. In the account suggested here, you might better say he “regained control”. For all those cars that do not crash, clearly they are not being controlled. Rather, they are integrated as components within a larger system, the trafic flow. The conditions that allow optimal traffic flow include clear road markings, good visibility, road-worthy cars, non-drunken drivers, etc. When one driver crashes, that system has collapsed, and the car is now acting independently. So the car+driver system has, in a slightly odd sense, reasserted its autonomy, made itself independent, and regained control. But with that, there is clumsiness, ineffectiveness, and a crash.
Wu wei is action without the clumsiness of a locus of control.
Postscript: This distinction parallel’s Terrence Deacon’s account of orthograde and contragrade processes. The cars that act as components within a superordinate domain of autonomy illustrate the former. The car that makes itself independent, and then collides with and threatens the domain of ordered driving, illustrates the contragrade.
The idea seems to recur to me that good dynamical modeling needs to not only define its systems with care, and their dynamics, but it also needs to pick its variables with care. They should be as meaningless as possible. This is why we can see something interesting in the blinking of the eye, the twitching of the thumps on the video controller, the synchronization of eye movements in/as film… Being entirely non-specific, they might appear the same to everyone.
Don Norman had the notion of weak general interfaces. The keyboard and the video game controller are good examples. But so are the eyeballs. Are the hands acting as sensory devices as they play GTA? Why yes! Looking at it like this makes it clear that there is no ‘perception’ that is differentiable from action.
Susan Hurley said that the ecological approach was instrumental, and the dynamic approach was constitutive. Perhaps these two approaches see the same relation from different sides, as it were. The ecological approach points out the lawfulness inherent in the P/A relation. Lawfulness is boring. No information, because it behaves as expected. That is one view. Like looking at the single cell from the outside, knowing all about its metabolism, the glucose and the gradient. It looks mechanical. It is too, given some very important presuppositions. One of which is that there is something it is like to be the cell.
Dynamics ought to allow one to keep that in mind, while simultaneously acknowledging the view from the inside. Hence it allows the constitutive to appear.
How might one investigate more specific instances, such as dance, in which there is more feeling, and sensory-motor skill is required? We have meaningless ones of these too, in sport.
There is a clash at the moment: two ways of knowing about ourselves are on offer, and they are very incompatible. From where I’m standing, it looks as if both grew out of psychology, but in fact one *is* latter day cognitive psychology and much attendant baggage, while the other looks Eastern, almost Taoist at times. The latter emerges from a consideration of the combined insights of the enactive tradition (both Noë and Varela), Harry Heft’s synthesis of Gibsonian Ecological Psychology and Barker’s Ecobehavioral Psychology, Coordination Dynamics and similar Dynamical approaches, Radical Constructivism, and more besides, I’m sure. Full Story »
Conventional psychology condems its believers to solipsism. P-world theory may look similar at first blush, but it is important not to identify with the P-world. The P-world is all that is first-person: born of the lawful relation between sensory flux and attendant movement that arises in an animate being. It brings forth the raw material for a world, but that, alone, could never account for the world we encounter. Our world, in turn, arises from our collective constitution. Collective constitution is the means by which we escape the prison of solispsim built by psychology. Full Story »
Current film editing techniques are more than likely partly responsible for the silly naive realism that seems to underpin so much of our thinking about ourselves. It used be, in early film, and hence also in experimental film, that the camera represented a single point of view, and that was important. But with modern editing, view changes. The distributed logic of film editing does violence to the notion of a single point of view. I bet that’s a modern change brought about by film. Perhaps changing again right now though, with the proliferation of cameras that do stand in rough correspondence to single points of view. The Tsunami, for example.
Look at this phrase. Look at this phrase. Try to see it as black marks on a screen or page. I doubt you will be seing it as white condensation trails in the sky, but if that is the case, try to see it as white condensation trails in the sky. Try not to read it. Try to see just the marks, and not the language, as if it were written in an unfamiliar script in a strange and inscrutible language. Look at this phrase.
Unless you are illiterate, or have some very specific kind of brain damage, you will not succeed. Seeing through the marks (vehicle?) to the words (content?) is obligatory.
Admit the words, but leave out the sentential meaning. If you can’t stop reading words, try to stop there, and do not let the words work together to form a meaningful phrase. Again, it fails. The words (now regarded as vehicles) can not be attended to without also admitting their content (the meaning?).
How far does this recursion go? Are there first, second, and higher order meanings, each acting as vehicles for further content, each at a greater remove from the physical and momentary reality of marks on a page?
We might claim that there is a basic reality, a fundamental vehicle, of marks on the page, but is that not itself a reified and abstract description, dividing the continuum of the world up, as it does, into a page, regarded as a surface, and marks thereon. Perhaps we can infer back to a more fundamental level, that of a flux upon your retina, induced by the reflectant properties of the surfaces and substances around you, and by the darting and fixations of your eyeball, located in a wobbling head. Perhaps this is the nearest we can come to identifying a basic level vehicle. This is the level chosen by Ecological Psychology. Cognitive Psychology would start with different primitives.
But when we talk of marks, pages, words and meanings, we are talking about things in the world (for the most part), things that we perceive, or believe we perceive. We do not perceive the changing flux on the retina.
The Hard Problem? Really?
There is no “hard problem”. The language used to set up the hard problem repeats all the known and fatal errors that arise when dealing with experience.
The supposed qualia are experiential, not observable. As used in standard discussion within the field of cognitive science and its philosophy, they are an attempt to take the domain of experience and treat it as a thing – as something to be found in the world. Worse, they partition experience, until all that is left is the poverty of the notion of “redness” or “sweetness”. Experience does not reduce in this fashion. This is the persistent problem: treating of mind, or consciousness, or qualia, as something to be found in the world.
My preferred term, because it helps to get things straight, is experience. Mind, consciousness and qualia are all just confused ways of acknowledging the reality of experience in the first person. And experience is not to be found in the world. Experience is what gives us a world in the first place.
Let us digress, before this becomes bitter, and go back to a fictional Isaac Newton, sitting under an apple tree in rural England, looking at apples, perhaps picking one or two up, feeling them, hefting them, throwing one up in the air and catching it, then biting into one.
Crick’s amazing hypothesis states:
“You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.
How might we demur? My suggestion is to question the simplistic use of the personal pronoun, “you”, to refer to the antics of a bag of meat. If you (jake) believe that this word (you) refers to the carry on of your body, then Crick is probably right. However, if, as seems clear to me, the use of the personal pronoun is anything but simple, and refers to stuff that is both individual and collective, then it unravels.
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